In New Jersey, which has towns named Bound Brook, Green Brook, and Saddle Brook, the smart card industry must fight to avoid a donnybrook.
A plan from Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's State of the State message last January to issue chip cards to most adult residents has run into resistance from a coalition of liberals and conservatives.
With state governments regarded as likely engines of smart card growth, the industry is intent on at least preventing a Waterloo. Bankers and others discouraged by the technology's costs might then be able to ride on New Jersey's planned roadbed.
But anti-chip forces, mainly privacy advocates, have already managed to quash a smart-card-based driver's license proposal in Utah. A repeat performance in a populous eastern state, where officials thought they had addressed the fatal flaws in Utah's design, could significantly set back the cause.
Smart card proponents were beginning to count New Jersey's potential six million cardholders as a breakthrough with nationwide implications. Suddenly, the state legislature is showing signs of balking.
"You can't take the legislative process for granted," said David Mortimer, associate deputy state treasurer, who is spearheading the campaign for the card known as Access NJ.
Mr. Mortimer has learned that lesson all too well, now that the American Civil Liberties Union, others in what he called the "privacy police," people who reflexively oppose new technologies, and conservative-leaning lobbying groups have gotten legislators' attention.
"It was being titled 'Access NJ,' but in fact it was 'access your privacy,'" said one of the more vocal opponents, John T. Tomicki, executive director of the League of American Families in Trenton.
"This technology has the potential to dramatically decrease individual privacy," charged ACLU New Jersey staff attorney David Rocah.
In tune with the smart card industry, Mr. Mortimer asserts that the cards actually enhance privacy. In this perspective, they are little computers with access codes that only the cardholder controls.
"I consider myself a privacy advocate," said William J. Barr, a leading supporter of the technology as president of the Smart Card Forum. "We see this as a way to protect privacy."
Mr. Barr, a New Jerseyan who works in Morristown for Bellcore, said the current flap resulted from legislators "responding to the loudest voices," and he wants the Smart Card Forum to turn up its own volume.
The forum has an educational, not lobbying, charter and has begun mapping public and government educational efforts with the Smart Card Industry Association, which represents manufacturers and system vendors and happens to be based in Lawrenceville, N.J. They have not announced specific plans for the New Jersey legislative situation.
In contrast to the failed Utah proposal, Access NJ is, at bottom, voluntary, though Mr. Mortimer said the benefits will be so compelling that consumers will flock to it.
He will not have a chance to test that theory or the market unless he can outmaneuver or outgun the opposition. He has set an aggressive goal of gaining approval by Election Day, which he said would allow for contract awards early next year. Smart card issuance could begin at the rate of 125,000 a month by late 1999 or early 2000.
The idea is essentially to give Access NJ cards to as many people over 18 as want to have them.
It would be a misnomer to call them smart driver's licenses like the Utah cards. But the license would be the initial application-one of many "privileges" that could be loaded on the computer chip and, when necessary, electronically revoked.
The license function comes first in hopes of gaining immediate, mass acceptance for the card-97% of people over 18 within four years, Mr. Mortimer said.
The six million could comprise an attractive "critical mass" for any number of additional privileges and services beginning a few months after the driver's license introduction. These could include public transportation, firearms and hunting licenses, electronic benefits transfer, and, in the private sector, secure building entry, personal identification, credit card, debit card, and other payment services.
The long-term vision calls for Access NJ to be part of an "intelligent transportation system" from Maine to Virginia, enabling highway toll payments much like today's E-Z Pass transponders while also being accepted in buses and subways.
Mr. Mortimer stressed that the card itself is nothing more than a key for access to the services loaded on it. "People would have the option of replacing the multiple cards they carry today with keys" in this one card, he said last week at the American Bankers Association's bank card conference in Philadelphia.
"With six million cards, the big hurdle of issuance is taken care of," Mr. Mortimer said. "Within 12 months, services will be added," including state employee medical and dental benefits, the WIC nutritional program, and general assistance to the poor.
"The private sector has to be creative in enhancing the infrastructure that the public sector develops," he said. "The landscape on the card has to be less proprietary and the choices driven by the customer."
He listed several selling points for Access NJ, which is a streamlined, single-card revision of an earlier smart card plan. It is designed to ease citizen-government interaction and exchanges of information, enhance the state's high-technology reputation, promote economic growth, and reduce fraud that may cost $500 million a year in the welfare system alone.
New Jersey's current driver's license may be "the most counterfeited in the world," Mr. Mortimer pointed out, while Access NJ would be laden with security.
"This is not Big Brother," the official said. "It makes the government available 24 hours, seven days a week" and appeals to New Jersey demographics-it is relatively young, wealthy, and has the highest personal computer penetration rate among the 50 states.
"The infrastructure could be so compelling that New Jersey may have a problem keeping control" of demand, said Gary Glickman, president of Phoenix Planning and Evaluation Ltd., a consulting firm in Rockville, Md.
But Mr. Tomicki of the League of American Families sees only "a larger picture of government intervention in privacy," of which smart cards are a part. He said he is not convinced they are "digitally safe."
Mr. Rocah of the ACLU said he is wary of smart cards' role in creating government data bases, of "universal numbers" on driver's licenses, and of any dissemination of personal information without the individual's consent.
Paul F.P. Coenen, a veteran payment systems consultant and president of Electronic Strategy Associates, Cumming, Ga., suggested taking such comments seriously. Prospective issuers should catalogue the concerns as well as the benefits, seek marketing and communications guidance through focus-group research, assure that privacy, security, and error-correction safeguards are in place from the start, and give consumers freedom to opt out.
Mr. Coenen also has called attention to religious fundamentalists who see smart cards as fulfilling diabolical prophecies. Overlooking this "substantial percentage" of the population "is a bad marketing idea and creates lots of problems," he said.
Mr. Rocah and Mr. Tomicki, strange bedfellows, said the current proposal will lack sufficient support in Trenton until it more directly addresses their criticisms.
"Our laws need to catch up with technology," said Mr. Rocah. "Bland assurances from banks and technology companies are not enough-we need laws that are enforceable in court."
"We need to do a responsible job of apprising (legislators) of the benefits and risks," Mr. Mortimer said. "They are getting misinformation."